At the age of 23, Vivy Yusof co-founded the fashion e-commerce retailer FashionValet, now a multi-million dollar company that oversees 500 brands. The vivacious blogger and entrepreneur chats with travel 3Sixty° about the business of fashion.
Compiled by: Abby Yao
When did you realise you had an entrepreneurial spirit?
I was always a restless kid; if I finished a quiz early in school, I’d fill my time making friendship bracelets to sell to my friends. When I was nine, I wrote a children’s book inspired by Sweet Valley Kids, and rented it out to my friends for MYR0.50 (approx. USD0.10). Later, I hired a friend who was good at drawing to sketch on my book’s empty pages, and marked up the rental price to MYR1 (approx. USD0.25), since it was enhanced with pictures. It was all really fun!
How has travel made an impact on your life choices and perspective?
I love travelling; it makes you realise how small you are in the universe, and how many things you don’t know and haven’t experienced yet. I keep my eyes open to new things when I travel, and see if I can apply them back home. While studying in the UK, I learned about e-commerce by being an online shopper myself. I also sold things on eBay. When I returned to Malaysia after graduating, I saw a huge potential for fashion e-commerce, and started FashionValet with my husband Fadza in 2010.
You not only run FashionValet but also the dUCk lifestyle brand that is known for its luxury scarves. What business potential do you see in modest fashion?
It’s receiving a lot of attention now, and business prospects are booming. Even Uniqlo and Nike are tapping into modest wear lines and collaborations. The potential is massive; a lot of big players are eyeballing modest fashion, so it’s going to get very interesting.
What aspects of your work do you find most rewarding?
There are many highs – from expanding our team of three to almost 150, to being on the Forbes 30 Under 30 Asia 2017 list, expanding our warehouse and offices, collaborating with talented local designers and celebrities, and opening more FashionValet and dUCk brick and-mortar stores! But if I had to choose, it’s watching my team grow as leaders. Fadza and I used to be extremely hands-on with the business, but we let go of the reins a little this year, trusting the team leaders to manage their own departments. Now, they perform better than us!
What are your insights on judging the AirAsia Runway Ready Designer Search (AARRDS) for two consecutive years?
I went into the competition thinking that I would be just judging the designs the contestants from various Asean countries, but I came out learning so much from them – their culture and country, their pride, struggles and dreams. It was such a beautiful experience. I admit, it’s difficult judging fashion because it’s so subjective. But that’s why there’s a panel of judges who can give input based on individual experience. For me, it’s all about saleability.
What are the biggest challenges designers and retailers in Southeast Asia face today?
In this industry, you need hard power and soft power. It is easy to go up to an up-and-coming designer and tell them they can be a success just by putting photos of their clothes online, when, in fact there‘s so much more that goes into it: buying, marketing, fulfilment, merchandising. It‘s these hard powers that sell products. But then, you also require soft power – the ability to talk and connect with others, make them feel comfortable working with you, gain their trust. I feel these ‘soft‘ powers are sometimes overlooked. The e-commerce industry is still growing. I’ve learned that each country has a different way of shopping and you cannot simply replicate the successes of each country somewhere else. Localisation is very important, so it’s difficult to have a one-size-fits all model as a retailer.
As a style icon and influencer, where does your fashion inspiration come from?
Honestly (and I might sound biased saying this), I get my fashion inspiration from the clothes on FashionValet. They have special meaning for me because I know the designers and their stories personally. I’m always inspired with what they put out.
What advice do you offer aspiring female entrepreneurs?
First, know yourself. Don’t be an entrepreneur because you think it’s the sexy thing to do, or because that’s what everyone else perceives as success. Entrepreneurship is not for everybody, because it becomes your life. If you’re not prepared to take that on, please don’t do it. But if you’re sure you are entrepreneurial material, then get going and stop giving yourself excuses.
How do you manage your time between running two dynamic brands and raising a young family?
A strong mentality and a good support system are vital to a working parent. You can’t focus at work if you haven’t sorted out the logistics at home – who’s taking care of the kids, have they eaten, are there enough diapers at home, have they taken their medicine. These day-to-day things matter a lot.
As a popular blogger for 10 years and with your own reality TV show, your life is very public, and open to scrutiny. Is there a difference between the public and private Vivy Yusof?
The two Vivys are one and the same, I have no separate public and private personas. My blogs and captions are from my heart and not from a social media team. I think that’s what people like about me – that I am always real. Much of my growth as a person and the improvements I have made to my companies are a result of the critiques and suggestions from my readers and customers, so I always take their feedback in a positive light.
What is your philosophy in life?
My dad loves to lecture us about life at the dinner table. And he has ‘The Five Fs’ that he likes to preach to us. In life, you need ‘five Fs’ to be happy: Faith, Family, Friends, Fitness and Finance. I truly believe in this, and I am happy to say that I always try and fulfil the ‘five Fs’ philosophy.